Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) helps veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare and income.
Connecticut Veterans Legal Center arose from the volunteer work of Howard Udell, who first came to the VA Connecticut’s Errera Community Care Center in 2007. The Errera Center is a nationally-recognized VA facility providing mental health, substance abuse, housing and employment assistance to indigent veterans. When, over morning coffee, the veterans learned Howard was an attorney, they started asking him for advice about their legal troubles. Soon a line would form by the elevator on days when Howard was coming in. Howard started taking cases on his own and before long was assisting thirty veterans. He was a walking needs assessment for the legal barriers veterans face in rebuilding their lives.
Howard joined with attorney Margaret Middleton to incorporate CVLC in 2009 with seed funding from the Yale Initiative for Public Interest Law. New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA), a local legal aid agency, served as the fiscal sponsor for the project. The mission of the organization was, and remains, to help veterans recovering from homelessness and serious mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare and income. Although the co-founders were driven by the immediate needs of the local veterans they met at the Errera Center, they proved an unwitting vanguard in a national movement to serve the legal needs of veterans.
CVLC serves veterans who are confronting a wide variety of legal issues, including family, housing, criminal record expungement, bankruptcy, consumer debt, securing Social Security and VA benefits, employment, estate planning and military discharge upgrades. CVLC is the only organization in Connecticut to overcome transportation and communication obstacles for the state’s most vulnerable veterans by meeting them where they are, on-site at VA mental health facilities. To date, CVLC has helped almost 1,000 veterans, over half of whom were homeless or previously homeless, reintegrate into civilian life by providing legal aid. In addition to providing free legal services to veterans, CVLC also serves as a legal information and referral resource for social service agencies, legislative bodies and attorneys serving veterans across the state of Connecticut and the United States.
1. Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) has helped over 1200 veterans rebuild their lives by resolving legal barriers to recovery.
2. For every dollar spent, CVLC returns $4.94 to indigent veterans in increased income, reduced debt and donated attorney time.
3. In 2013, CVLC and a partner organization in New York were awarded $700,000 by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation for the first-ever study of the mental health and well-being of veterans who get legal help integrated into VA care.
4. CVLC has built a network of over 600 volunteer attorneys, paralegals and law students committed to assisting veterans in need.
5. CVLC advocated for systemic reforms to benefit indigent veterans. This includes testimony before Congress asking for reforms to VA’s handling of claims for victims of military sexual violence and drafting and lobbying for the enactment of Connecticut’s now-existing jail diversion law, which gives veterans accused of low-level crimes additional access to treatment rather than jail.
1. To serve as the national model for the integration of legal aid into the system of VA care for veterans and demonstrate the efficacy of this medical-legal partnership.
2. To use technology to improve the experience and efficiency of volunteer lawyers serving veterans. Plans include online feedback and time tracking as well as online access to training and model documents.
3. To expand the pro bono impact of Connecticut attorneys by connecting private practice, firms and corporate attorneys to veterans in need of legal services.
1. Gifts of any size help fund our core mission to help veterans overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare and income.
2. Volunteer professional services improve CVLC's organizational capacity. We actively recruit volunteers with legal skills, military background and other professional skills including design, branding, marketing, communications, accounting, strategic planning and technology.
3. Donation of printers, software licenses or other electronic goods, office space in West Haven and interesting and beautiful spaces in which to hold fundraising events.
4. Non-legal corporate executives passionate about CVLC’s mission to serve on the program’s board and its task forces addressing development, finance, strategic planning and public relations.
It’s hard not to grin during a visit to CVLC at the VA’s Errera Community Care Center. Here’s an idea of what you’ll see and an overview of what we are doing there.
You’ll emerge from the elevator into a big sunny room, with lovely old wood floors and twenty-foot ceilings. Light floods in from a skylight above and a wall of ten foot high windows in front of you. A boombox is playing and veterans are sitting at long lunch tables chatting over coffee or reading the paper.
These veterans face adversity and come here to learn to confront it together. Some have fought in wars and bear invisible injuries that make the simple routines of daily living difficult. Others are reuniting with their families after decades of substance abuse. Some are homeless for the first time after losing their jobs. All are vulnerable and all have shown up.
Past the welcome desk on your left there is a tiny closet of a room, about half the size of a dorm room, with a couple of desks, a filing cabinet and an over-whelmed coat rack. This is the only office of Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, the first organization in the country to bring legal help to veterans all day, everyday at the place they go to rebuild their lives. A housing specialist drops by with a veteran who got a notice to leave his apartment, a veteran stops in because he heard that his friend got a pardon with our help, and a veteran calls because she got a piece of mail from the VA she doesn’t understand.
These veterans talk with CVLC’s paralegal, who connects them with one of four attorneys on staff. These attorneys might help them understand their rights or their mail, they might write a letter to a landlord who kept the veterans’ security deposit, or help them fill out a financial affidavit to modify their child support. These attorneys might connect the veteran with one of the hundreds of volunteer attorneys from across Connecticut who have agreed to help by donating their time and expertise.
In addition to feeling good, CVLC’s work does good; we know that because we measure our impact so we can focus our limited resources on the most successful interventions. In the past year, when we succeeded in helping a veteran apply for VA benefits, we improved their annual income by an average of $5,374. When they came to us for help with a landlord-tenant dispute we helped them avoid emergency shelter 80% of the time. In fact, for every dollar CVLC spent last year, we returned $4.94 in reduced debt, increased income and donated attorney time to indigent veterans in our community.
is just over 5 years old and after helping over 1200 veterans, it
is at a critical point in its growth. The organization needs to build
and strengthen its board so that it can perform the tasks that CVLC will
require in the years ahead.
CVLC has identified several key
priorities areas for growth in its Board. Any potential new Board member
should meet at least one of these priorities:
· Significant involvement in development
· Accounting/financial skills
· Geographic diversity
· Marketing/Public Relations skills
· Gender & Ethnic diversity
· Corporate executive representation
· Members with military service
any potential Board member must be able to fulfill the established
responsibilities and expectations. Any person who joins the Board of
Directors agrees to:
· Consistently attend Board and committee meetings
· Participate in at least one Board committee
· Assist in resource development by:
· Be an informed participant, which includes:
Please contact CVLC's Executive Director Margaret Middleton at email@example.com for more information.
The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) partners with the VA Errera Community Care Center (ECCC) in West Haven to help veterans remove legal barriers to stable housing and income. CVLC’s medical-legal partnership with the ECCC integrates legal assistance into the network of services provided to veterans by the VA and other agencies. While the VA Connecticut Healthcare System provides quality medical, mental health and rehabilitation services to eligible veterans, it provides no legal assistance. VA’s General Counsel previously recognized CVLC as the first organization in the country to fill that gap by integrating legal services into VA care and remains the only program serving veterans full-time on-site at any VA. This partnership helps homeless veterans get and stay housed. CVLC strongly believes in creating a collaborative environment built on multiple capacities in which veterans can overcome social, economic and legal barriers to live self-determined and meaningful lives. The partnership strongly affirms that integrated legal care leads to healthier patients.
The goal of providing free legal services to low-income veterans— including advice, pro bono referral and direct representation— is to increase housing and income stability, create greater access to healthcare, and most importantly maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing healthcare services to provide the best healthcare to veterans. The partnership serves veterans with a wide variety of legal issues including family, housing, expungement, bankruptcy, consumer, Social Security, VA benefits, employment, estate planning, and military discharge upgrades. CVLC is the only organization in Connecticut that targets the legal needs of indigent veterans and the only organization in the state that provides legal assistance with veteran-specific issues, including VA benefits and discharge upgrades.
Last year CVLC helped resolve 40 legal issues that improved veterans’ housing stability and helped its clients collectively improve their financial status by over $700,000. For each veteran, these outcomes can be life changing. For example, CVLC connected a Vietnam combat veteran facing eviction with a pro bono attorney. Severe PTSD left the veteran few social supports and panicked about being kicked out of his home. The volunteer called the fire marshal and confirmed the veteran’s apartment violated code as it lacked sufficient exits. Because of the violation, the landlord paid for the veteran’s lodging while he found new housing working with a VA housing specialist. The attorney also helped the veteran successfully get a quick VA disability compensation determination. The successful claim increased the veteran’s monthly income by $2,800 giving him enough to afford a new apartment. The veteran told CVLC ““if [the volunteer lawyer] was my own brother, he couldn’t have done better for me…without him I would’ve been lost.”
Some of the most injured veterans in New Haven are denied care right now because of wartime mental injuries--an injustice that Connecticut Veterans Legal Center is working to fix.
Records corrections cases can take years to resolve, so CVLC’s immediate
success will be in building a robust program. In the short-term, this program
will train volunteers to start taking cases to assist veterans seeking records
corrections. To date, around 100 Connecticut attorneys at approximately 35 law
firms and corporations have been trained; in addition, attorneys in New York
and New Mexico have had access to CVLC training and support. Short-term success
includes the number of clients screened, the number of clients whose cases are
being developed through records requests, the number of clients who have been assigned
a volunteer attorney and the number of clients who have filed a records request
with their volunteer attorney.
Outcomes of the Records Corrections program are tracked in CVLC’s
case management database. In addition to the data and outcomes CVLC tracks for
every matter, for these particularly complex matters CVLC staff track what
records have been requested, reviewed and by whom. To monitor the program’s
development, CVLC staff track how many attorneys have been trained, how many
have taken pro bono cases and how many have filed applications with their
clients. For more information about the CVLC’s custom-programmed evaluation
system and outcome-oriented management please read about CVLC’s core legal aid
A number of veterans have received life-changing help from this
program. For example, a Vietnam veteran was referred to CVLC by a VA homeless
outreach worker. The veteran was ineligible for VA care because of an Other
Than Honorable discharge despite four other honorable terms of prior service.
CVLC successfully appealed the veteran’s eligibility for VA care. Not only does
he receive a lifetime of quality medical care, he is now living in permanent
supportive housing funded by VA and is no longer homeless.
strives to improve and reform the systems that indigent veterans rely on. CVLC advocates
for policy changes on both the state and federal levels by drafting
legislation, lobbying for new policies, publishing reports that analyze current
performance and recommend change, testifying before legislative committees and
raising awareness using traditional and social media. CVLC’s advocacy issues
include VA disability compensation reform, diverting veterans from jail to
treatment, and removing barriers to veteran employment.
passage of the Ruth Moore Act, short term success would be increased public
awareness about the difficulty of victims of military sexual assault to be
properly compensated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and support for
major short term success would be the passage of SB 212 currently pending in
the Connecticut legislature. This bill would reform policies regarding the
recognition of relevant military occupational training for civilian licenses
and college credit. It would save veterans from having to repeat
occupational training that they completed in the military. CVLC recently
published a report that demonstrates a clear need for policy reform in this
area and is lobbying legislators to pass SB 212.
Long-term success would be for effective policies on both
the state and federal levels which provide veterans with the best possible
chance to successfully transition to civilian life.
On a national scale, CVLC works to see significant
improvements in the VA disability compensation system. In particular,
elimination of the unrealistic evidentiary burdens placed on victims of
military sexual violence by the VA disability compensation system. This could
be achieved by passage of the Ruth Moore Act by Congress, for which CVLC has
CVLC's policy reform efforts can be monitored by the progress of bills in the
state and federal legislature, the number of traditional media pieces in
Connecticut about these issues, the number of views of CVLC’s social media
pieces on these issues and the number of public speaking engagements CVLC has
to raise awareness of these issues.
success of this program was the adoption of a state bill drafted and lobbied
for by CVLC. In 2012, working with students from Yale Law School's
Veterans Legal Services Clinic, CVLC helped to pass a Connecticut law which
provides veterans with more opportunities to receive treatment rather than jail
time. The law gives judges and attorneys more discretion, allowing them
to give veterans the ability to build a successful and fulfilling civilian
has also successfully raised awareness of the issues of military sexual assault
and VA compensation in Connecticut. WNPR’s Where We Live has devoted an hour to
the issue, including CVLC’s Executive Director Margaret Middleton as a guest.
WNPR also covered CVLC’s congressional testimony on the issue.
Young men and women who serve their country at war face serious challenges when they get home.
•First, they are often mentally injured during military service. According to a RAND study, 37% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been seen at a VA facility have been diagnosed with a mental health issue.
•Second, they face unemployment. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University reported that in February 2013 the youngest post-9/11 veterans (aged 20-24) experienced the highest unemployment rate of all age groups, at 38%. This joblessness rate is more than twice as high as their non-veteran counterparts.
•Finally, the demands of service place a substantial strain on veterans’ intimate relationships. A 2011 study of recently discharged New York State veterans by the RAND Corporation reported that many marriages were in jeopardy due to veterans’ mood changes (44%) and worry over the possibility of redeployment (42%).
Veteran place legal assistance at the top of their list of unmet needs. In recently released data from a 2012 VA-sponsored survey, veterans ranked legal assistance to prevent eviction or foreclosure, to address child support issues, to restore a drivers’ license, and to eliminate warrants and fines as the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th highest unmet needs in a list of over 30 options. Homeless or formerly homeless veterans rank these legal needs as less likely to be met than their needs for permanent, transitional, or emergency housing, all of which are addressed by VA’s current continuum of care.
Despite the clear and compelling need for legal help, the VA does not provide this service. Instead, it counts on partners like CVLC to fill this gap. William Russo, Esq.—advisor to the VA Office of General Counsel—summarized VA’s strategy this way: “Recognizing the force-multiplying effect of legal services on its efforts to prevent and end veterans' homelessness, [VA] encourages staff at its medical centers, outpatient clinics, and Vet Centers to refer veterans with unmet legal needs to local legal service providers, and, where possible, to provide office space for legal service providers to work with veterans on-site.”
Cindy Johnson is a Staff Attorney at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. Prior to pursuing her dream to become a public interest lawyer, she had a 25 year career in Software Development. She is a graduate of University of Connecticut School of Law.
She is admitted to the Connecticut State Bar and is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association and the New Haven County Bar Association.
A graduate of George Washington University National Law Center, Christy has served as a leader in the public interest law community in New Haven and nationally. Her previous experience includes working as Director of George Washington University’s Consumer HELP Bankruptcy Clinic, the Managing Attorney at Valley Legal Assistance, and the Deputy Director at New Haven Legal Assistance.
Christy has also worked as a Visiting Clinical Instructor at Yale Law School and served on the Board of Directors at the Columbus House and Washington Council of Lawyers.
CVLC works in medical-legal partnership with mental health and homeless services providers at VA Connecticut. In addition to that core partnership, CVLC partners with:
· The Connecticut Bar Association (CBA) to identify volunteer attorneys and train them in VA Benefits claims and discharge upgrades.
· Yale Law School’s Veterans’ Legal Services Clinic (VLSC) to jointly create a military discharge upgrades training manual and, along with the CBA, train volunteer attorneys in handling discharge upgrades.
· VLSC to draft and lobby for legislative reforms in CT to help veterans avoid jail, access care, and reenter the workforce.
· Columbus House and WorkPlace Inc. through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program.
· Give an Hour and Yale School of Medicine to recruit and train the first network of mental health providers to provide free evaluations for veterans seeking VA and DoD assistance.
· New York Legal Assistance Group and Yale School of Medicine to complete a two-year study of the VA medical-legal partnership.
· NHLAA and Statewide Legal Services, who give advice to CVLC attorneys and help with pro bono placement for family cases.
CVLC's strong management and governance capacities create the foundation that allows CVLC to innovate relentlessly:
In all of these ways CVLC represents the advanced guard in serving the needs of veterans, which is why legal services programs, funders, state bar associations and VA employees from at least a dozen states and the District of Columbia have sought CVLC’s expertise and advice in designing programs to serve the legal needs of veterans.
CVLC has a robust, high performing management and governance team. According to the Community Foundation’s “Guiding Principles for Nonprofits: Leadership, Evaluation and Sound Management,” CVLC’s board functions highly on several core management objectives.
First, the board establishes the mission and sets the organizational direction to achieve it. The board completed CVLC’s first strategic plan in 2013 and adopted a Time Action Plan with specific steps to monitor progress of the plan, identified by deadline and person accountable. The highest priority item identified in the strategic plan was board membership recruitment. The staff prepared materials to use for board recruitment introducing prospective members to CVLC's mission, organization and expectations. The board adopted criteria for new member selection, identified and interviewed prospective new members. In keeping with the Time Action Plan, the board has added three new members, each of whom fits criteria identified in the strategic plan, including racial diversity, geographic diversity, connections to large corporations, marketing expertise, and finance expertise. The board has successfully undergone its first change in leadership, with now-Board Chair John Bashaw replacing founding Board Chair David Rosen earlier this year. John has already assumed an active leadership role, meeting with prospective members and funders, including the Connecticut Bar Foundation and the Community Foundation.
Second, the board exercises strong oversight over CVLC’s finances. The board has adopted written financial controls that address potential conflicts of interest by clearly delineating the roles of the finance manager, the executive director, and the board in responsible money management. In particular, the financial controls create systemic checks so that no single agent controls any part of fund management without oversight. In addition to these policies, the board requires regular financial reporting from the staff. The board’s financial direction has been so prudent and conservative that CVLC has run at a small surplus every completed fiscal year for the last four years.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
The board and staff have built a diverse and resilient funding base that allows CVLC to adapt to abrupt funding changes. The organization suffered a huge loss with the death of its co-founder, board member and inspiration, Howard Udell, in 2013. However, the organization was able to withstand the loss of Howard’s leadership and fundraising power, even adding substantial new funding sources and additional staff within the six months following his death, because its existing revenue model targeted diverse funding sources. Within the last fiscal year, CVLC achieved several long-term funding goals including: securing state funding in the form of IOLTA funds from the Connecticut Bar Foundation, securing federal funding in the form of sub-grants under the VA’s Supportive Services for Veterans Families and securing a national funder with a $370,000 two-year grant from the Bristol-Myer Squibb Foundation.
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